Story highlights

Rolling Stone says a freshman, Jackie, was allegedly gang-raped by members of a fraternity

Sally Kohn: When it comes to rape, there is so much shaming of the victim in our society

She asks if a person reports murder or robbery, she will likely be believed, so why not rape?

Kohn: UVA, and other colleges, should take rape allegations seriously and investigate

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

“A Rape on Campus,” Rolling Stone

The above scene is just the beginning. In the paragraphs that follow, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely gives excruciatingly painful details of what allegedly happened to Jackie, a freshman at the University of Virginia, over the course of the next three hours as she was allegedly gang-raped by members of Drew’s fraternity. “Grab its motherf***ing leg,” one guy in the crowd said. “Its.” Jackie was dehumanized in every sense imaginable.

Sally Kohn
PHOTO: Courtesy Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

According to Rolling Stone, after a classmate penetrated Jackie with a beer bottle, she passed out. She woke up at 3 a.m., alone, her face beaten, her dress torn and spattered with blood. Going barefoot down the stairs, past the frat party still in full swing, Jackie left the building and called her friends. And this, if you can imagine it, is where the story gets worse.

Opinion: Punish rapists, not fraternities

The article continues: Jackie’s friends, two guys and one woman, ultimately decided she shouldn’t be taken to the hospital or report the rape because if she did, “her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Jackie’s female friend insisted, “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

This reaction is fairly unique to rape as compared with other crimes. After all, if someone is mugged or murdered, such crimes are generally reported to the police. For instance, the federal government estimates that 65% of rape or sexual assault cases are unreported, while 17% of car thefts are unreported.

On the day the Rolling Stone article about Jackie’s alleged rape was published, Caitlin Kelly, a Web producer at The New Yorker, wrote a string of tweets imagining what it would look like if people responded to her wallet being stolen the way they respond to rape. “‘I think that guy I know stole my wallet,’” Kelly tweeted, followed by the hypothetical responses:

“Well, do you have proof? Were you drinking that night? What were you wearing when this happened?”

“Are you sure that you didn’t just GIVE him your wallet, and now you’re embarrassed about it? Maybe there was just some miscommunication.”

“Have you lost wallets before? Just curious, just trying to get a better sense of what’s going on here. He has such a bright future.”

“Nobody is going to want to hang out with the girl who cried stolen wallet. You should really think hard about what you’re saying here.”

“All guys want wallets, it’s just in their nature. Maybe you shouldn’t have had a wallet in the first place.”

Kelly told The Huffington Post that her motivation for the tweets was “seeing so many people doubt victims, almost as a reflex, in ways that people who are victims (of) other crimes rarely seem to face.”

The shaming of rape victims is especially stark in contrast to the attitude of nonchalance or even boastfulness used by rapists. In the Rolling Stone article, Jackie describes how she ran into Drew (not his real name) during her lifeguard shift at a UVA pool, just two weeks after her alleged rape. ” ‘I wanted to thank you for the other night,’ Drew said. ‘I had a great time.’ ” Could you imagine Drew parading around like nothing had happened if he’d just committed a murder?

Jackie reported her rape, plus two other similar gang rapes she learned about at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, to Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board. Eramo told Jackie she could file a report with the police and that the university would support her if she did so, though the university did not exactly encourage her to report the crime. Jackie still has not filed a criminal or civil suit. It was not until Rolling Stone started poking around and asking questions about the rape allegations that the university began to investigate the matter.

Opinion: UVA’s answer to rape allegations a farce

Meanwhile Jackie, once a promising student engaged in all sorts of extracurricular activities of campus life, was abandoned by her friends, became depressed, and at one point, suicidal, the article said. She slept for days on end and fell behind in her studies. On the other hand, Drew, as of the writing of the Rolling Stone article, was set to graduate, entirely untarnished – as were the other men involved in the alleged rape.

“Rapists make us less uncomfortable than rape victims,” Roxanne Gay recently wrote in The Guardian. “Predators demand so much less than victims; they aren’t as inconvenient. They don’t bleed or hurt or reveal their gaping wounds. If we don’t doubt them, we do not have to doubt ourselves.”

Murder and robbery, after all, are obviously aberrant and therefore easy to call out. But rape? Rape is so horribly common that talking about it, exploring why it happens, investigating the culture and context of it, would seem to indict every aspect of a school like the University of Virginia that apparently has not done enough to address the problem.

When will we come to terms with our naive illusions about what goes on in places like UVA and at frat parties in every corner of America? If we don’t grapple with that reality, more young women will be destroyed.

Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life – and other college women like her – is shattered?

In a social science study conducted years ago, researchers had subjects watch a videotape showing an “ambiguous shove” between two people. When the person doing the pushing was white, subjects made “situational attributions” for the shover’s behavior. In other words, they made excuses for the shover’s behavior. But when the person doing the pushing was black, the subjects blamed the shover’s personality. Most notably, the subjects rated the exact same shove more violent when it was done by a black person.

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